How to Know When it is Time
Many elderly, injured, infirm or otherwise ill cats can be kept quite comfortable for months or years with just a bit more thought, attention, medication and/or tender loving care than they used to receive when they were healthier. For example, cats do quite well with one leg amputated. They also typically get along seamlessly with the loss of vision in an eye or hearing in an ear. With all the dietary options available today, cats can do just fine even with a toothless mouth. These sorts of disabilities usually inconvenience the owner more than the animal, and in the opinion of many veterinarians do not justify ending a pet’s life. However, when an animal is suffering from a painful, advanced or progressive incurable disease or condition, with no hope of cure, management or relief, and when it stops enjoying life, the kindest and most humane decision its owner can make may be to help it die quickly, quietly and without pain. Quality-of-life issues are always tough to evaluate. Still, when trying to decide whether or not to euthanize a pet, owners should ask themselves some important questions:
- Is the cat free from pain, distress or discomfort which cannot be effectively controlled or managed?
- Is the animal able to walk and maintain its balance reasonably well?
- Can it eat and drink enough, without difficulty and without persistent vomiting and/or diarrhea, to maintain an acceptable body weight?
- Is the cat free from inoperable tumors or other incurable conditions which cause pain or severe discomfort?
- Can it breathe without difficulty?
- Can it urinate and defecate without difficulty or incontinence?
- Is the animal still having more good days than bad?
- Can it still participate in the things that it loves to do best (like eating, jumping onto the chair or window sill to sleep in the sun, playing with toys and purring in its owner’s lap)?
- Has the cat lost its sense of dignity?
- Does it still purr? Does it still play?
- Can the owner cope physically and emotionally with the nursing or other supportive care which may be required to preserve or prolong the cat’s life?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is negative, and if treatment is unlikely to be successful, the owner probably should consider euthanasia as one of the possible options. In the end, euthanasia is a humane way to save an animal from unnecessary and prolonged suffering and from the indignity and distress of a lengthy terminal illness. A cat should not be kept alive simply because an owner can’t bear to part with it. Pet owners will almost always eventually have to face the fact that most domestic animals don’t live as long as people. As they age, cats and other pets will seem better on some days and worse on others, depending on their overall health. There is rarely a bright line between the “right,” “wrong” or “best” time to euthanize a pet. The cat’s veterinarian is the best qualified person to help owners objectively make this most difficult, but important, decision.